Rear Window is a movie directed by Alfred Hitchcock. It first premiered in 1954. It follows the story of the photographer L.B. Jefferies, called “Jeff,” who is unable to go to work, because he broke his leg, and instead has got to stay at home. To keep himself entertained, he observes what is going on in his neighborhood.
A big theme of this movie is surveillance. This is not coincidental, as it is clearly linked to the historical background of the film. Jeff uses his camera and binoculars in order to spy on his neighbors. He suspects that a murder has been committed, which is why he can justify this act of spying as the morally right thing to do. However, it still remains a massive invasion of his neighbors’ privacy and is therefore a questionable undertaking.
This theme of surveillance is very much linked to McCarthyism. McCarthyism was at its peak during the making of this film. It is defined in the Encyclopedia Brittanica as “the period of time in American history that saw U.S. Sen. Joseph McCarthy of Wisconsin produce a series of investigations and hearings during the 1950s in an effort to expose supposed communist infiltration of various areas of the U.S. government.” At this time, the general population frequently felt paranoid, and there was a feeling of constant suspicion among the American people with regard to possible communists living in society. We can see this element of communal distrust clearly reflected through the theme of surveillance in the film: Jeff doesn’t trust his neighbors, so he observes them in order to find out more. Just like in the real world during the time of McCarthyism, cameras and other equipment are used in the film in order to spy on other people.
Rear Window also shows us the typical gender norms of its time. The main role of a woman was to take care and look after her partner. While Lisa and Jeff don’t live together, Lisa still frequently visits Jeff in order to look after him. Also, women are portrayed as very superficial in the film. They seem to be mainly obsessed with their looks. It is not their character or intelligence that matters, but their looks and appearance. A typical woman’s role at the time was to be a good wife by taking care of the family and by pleasing her husband. Lisa and Jeff are not married, but it is very obvious in the film that they are still living according this stereotype.